Review: ‘An Ideal Husband' at The Gamm

At its best, an Oscar Wilde play should amuse and titillate. The Gamm's production, with its chivalry, secrets and lies, beautiful people and solid performances, delivers.

In An Ideal Husband, Sir Robert (Jim O'Brien) is a man of integrity. He is a politician whose public image is unstained and may feel just a little morally superior to you. And why wouldn't he feel that? His wife, Lady Chiltern (Casey Seymour Kim) has told him and anyone else who will listen to her what a righteous man her husband is. The problem is that Sir Robert, like everyone, has a past. Early in his career, when he was a middling civil servant, he sold Parliamentary secrets for a small fortune.

Sir Robert's best friend is Lord Goring (Tony Estrella), who is a dandy, thought to be based on Oscar Wilde, himself. Much to his father, The Earl of Caversham's (Alan F. Hawkidge) consternation, Lord Goring has little regard for social conventions that would require him to earn a living or start a family. Lord Goring is quite content to socialize and attend the opera for the rest of his life. When he was a much younger man, Lord Goring had a mad three-day fling with the now twice-married Mrs. Cheveley (Jeanine Kane). He proposed. She declined. They parted ways without seeing each other, until now.

Mrs. Chevely is heavily invested in the passage of a piece of legislation that is quite simply, a swindle to taxpayers, but beneficial to her and a few other investors. She has come to London to blackmail Sir Robert Into supporting the legislation. For his support, she will return an 18 year old letter, written by Sir Robert, in which he sells Parliamentary secrets.  The plays begins there and takes place over the next few days. Like a fairy tale, good triumphs over evil and all of the honorable people live happily ever after.

Although Sir Robert Is the main character of the story, he is after all the title character, Oscar Wilde saves the best dialogue for the foppish Lord Goring. Wilde essentially gives himself the best lines.

Jim O'Brien's Sir Robert Is necessarily wooden with an unnecessarily wandering accent. The portrayal does not elicit much empathy, but has more than a measure of self-consciousness expected of a public figure. Alan F. Hawkridge completely disappears into his role as the Earl of Caresham.

Casey Seymour Kim gives a terrific performance as Lady Chiltern as does Jeanine Kane as Mrs. Cheveley. Both actresses can turn a phrase and give withering looks as easily as they walk on stage. I would love to see what each of them would do with the other role. Karen Carpenter is enjoyable to watch in the role of the Lord Goring's love interest, a young, vapid, Miss Chiltern.

There are two notable Gamm debuts in this production. Irene Handren gives a delightful performance as the fussbudget Lady Markby. Newcomer R. Bobby has a memorable turn in the tiny role of the butler, Phipps.  Here's hoping we see more of the two actors.

An Ideal Husband is the essence of a drawing room drama. It could play as a comedy, if the Lord Goring character is amped up, but Director Judith Swift and Estrella, to their credit, keep an even hand. Estrella shows remarkable restraint on stage. His Lord Goring is perfectly comfortable slipping in and out of scenes, tossing verbal carpet bombs and walking away unscathed, without insisting on being the center of the story.

Throughout the evening, Swift keeps Wilde's bubbly dialogue moving. Setting the play 25 years in the future, say 1920 as opposed to 1895, works beautifully. I think, but cannot be sure, that some of the peripheral dialogue was trimmed. The play comes in at about two and a half hours, in three acts, with one intermission. Between act two and three, the set is dressed in a well-choreographed dance of actors and furniture. The interchangeable drawing room set design is deceptively simple.

An Ideal Husband plays at The Gamm in Pawtucket, RI through December 7th. Tickets range from $24-$39 and can be purchased online at www.arttixri.com or by phone at 401-723-4266.

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From This Author Randy Rice

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